British duo Magnetophone doesn’t quite resemble the likes of M83, but there is a certain richness in the textures they use to create a great collection of songs that are ambient, yet organic, at the same time. The fact that Kim and Kelley Deal and other artists are here does nothing to hinder that attempt. Matt Saunders and John Hanson, the brains behind this electronica outfit, weave a tapestry of sounds that cuts through the usual blips and bleeps for thoughtful and rather reflective pieces of work, beginning with the opener “Let’s Start Something New”. Beginning almost like a hymn or other effort you would hear prior to a Sunday church service, the uplifting organ soars above the growing effects.
From there, Magnetophone moves into a danceable groove for the deliberate “Kel’s Vintage Thought” that could be mistake for a Depeche Mode demo a tempo and a melody that is dark and murky, but still quite appealing. Drums and bass get the gist of this song across, as the tune glides along without any surprises or radical twists. The guitar solos aren’t exactly anything to salivate over, but they provide just enough oomph to keep the song pumping. Perhaps the finest aspect of the track is how long it rides a groove without any ad-ons or anything that could potentially screw things up. And the pair doesn’t waste a lot of time getting to where it wants to go, without slow-building layering to create some six or seven-minute epic. “A Sad Ha Ha (Circled My Demise)” is a somber affair with a Brit-folk or Celtic-tinged vocal placed alongside a delayed harmony. Magnetophone then uses a slow but steady, quasi-marching backbeat to bring the song a dirge-like life. “I’ll be as good as gold” one of the lyrics goes, and this song is the first truly golden moment here. The only mistake might be not getting Alasdair Roberts to do the vocals, but it’s a minor point. This blueprint is revisited later on with the gorgeous, aquatic “I’ve Been Looking Around Me”.
Magnetophone takes some time easing you into other songs on this baker’s dozen collection. Yet a few of these don’t quite live up to anything spectacular or even remotely special. A good example of this is “…And May Your Last Words Be a Chance to Make Things Better”. With a vocal that brings to mind Julie Doiron, the rather sparse, monotone arrangement tries to break out into something slightly bigger and better. But it just doesn’t come together for this song. And even at four minutes, it seems to drag on and on with no real direction or aim, losing its focus about two minutes in. It’s again quite forgettable once the lo-fi wall of guitar comes to the fore on “The Only Witching You’ll Be Doing”, which sounds like a melding of early Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd and My Bloody Valentine or Thee Heavenly Music Association.
The tandem also churns out a rather clunky, odd and unimpressive “Rae and Suzette” that is fuelled by the sounds of firecrackers or fireworks going off while a dreary organ plods along. Just as confusing is the drum ‘n’ bass flavor oozing out of “Benny’s Insobriety”, an odd bit of music that seems perfect for a television interlude. And “Kodiak” isnt much better to be honest, a disjointed piece of work that doesn’t go anywhere, relying on some sound effects to create a vague haunting or eerie idea. It’s this unfocused aspect that clouds much of the second half of the album, as “Motion G” rarely lives up to its potential and sounds like filler more than anything else.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of quality material here. A good example is the retro-sounding “Without Word” that sounds like it should be on some ’80s compilation with a hypnotic, industrial-meets-electro arrangement propelling the airy, Stone Roses-like vocals that blend into one another for a creative and experimental result. Finishing with “Let’s Start Something Smooth”, Magnetophone has made, with the exceptions of a few tunes, a very good album.